Katie Couric’s wonderfully frank new memoir Going There depicts the tension the famous TV journalist has wrestled with throughout her career: resisting — but sometimes embracing — her persistent image as “America’s Sweetheart,” especially during her years cohosting NBC’s Today show, when she wanted to be taken seriously in the realm of hard news. She describes it as a battle between the “Katie and Katherine” sides of her personality.
Her book makes it clear that, despite her omnipresent smile and morning-show-style affability, Couric, 64, is a fiercely competitive and ambitious journalist — and that it would be hard to survive otherwise in an industry that, as she describes it, “runs on schadenfreude,” and is rife with backstabbing climbers and executives single-mindedly focused on winning the battle for viewers. (Her descriptions of the wily attempts by bookers for Today and ABC’s Good Morning America to steal each other’s guests are enough to make the memoir worth a read.)
But while Couric’s certainly not shy about detailing how her hard work led to headline-generating interviews (Sarah Palin, David Duke), not to mention multimillion-dollar network contracts ($15 million annually at CBS, post-Today), she’s also honest about her regrets and failures. That includes being truly awful on camera in her early years: While working as an assistant assignment editor at CNN, the company president called young Couric’s boss, who relayed a message to her: “He never wants to see you on air again.” Much later, Dan Rather complained that she was “dumbing down and tarting up” the news at CBS. She also describes her ambivalence and bafflement over her former cohost Matt Lauer’s sexual assault allegations (she’s severed all ties but was clearly deeply fond of him.)
And we learn about her longtime eating disorder, gut-wrenching grief over her husband Jay Monahan’s illness and death from colon cancer at age 42, subsequent dating life — even Katie Couric gets dumped sometimes! — and finally finding love again with current husband John Molner.
Couric now runs her media company, Katie Couric Media (KCM), with Molner, producing, among other things, a podcast called Next Question With Katie Couric; a daily newsletter, Wake-Up Call; and documentaries. (“Sometimes I’m Katherine, sometimes I’m Katie,” she writes. “Now my work allows me to be both.”)
We spoke with her recently about her memoir, career, thoughts on aging and more (the conversation has been edited for space and clarity).
Why a memoir — and why now
I’ve always toyed with the idea of writing a memoir — and I promised my dad that if I ever did, I would write it myself. I think that I was at a stage in my life where there was enough distance from a lot of the things I experienced that I could reflect on them.
There are a lot of stories I didn’t have room to tell — interviews and personal experiences I would have liked to have talked about. I thought maybe I needed more than one volume, but my husband said, “Who do you think you are, Winston Churchill?”
How she got past the challenges in the early years of her career
I don’t know, I think I have a lot of pluck. I also think I’m a funny mix of insecurity and self-confidence. I looked around and I thought, Well, why couldn’t I do what these other people are doing? I just don’t have as much experience as they do. I felt like I owed it to myself to try to be better, to try to get more comfortable. I thought I just didn’t have some of the more cosmetic and performative aspects of the job down, so all I needed to get better at was the window dressing.
Why it was sometimes hard to be taken seriously
We’re so judged by our packaging. I was thinking about that when I wrote about my smile, my personality: It’s really easy to put someone in a box and stereotype them and not appreciate the complexities of who they are, or the range of who they are. And then you couple that with the rampant sexism that exists in our society… I think that creates an expectation of what a woman is supposed to be, and how she’s supposed to act, and what she can achieve. So I think with all of those things, I had to always work against type.
Let me rephrase that: There were some moments when I had to work against type, and others where the big personality — the fun, playful side of me — was really helpful to me for certain aspects of my job.
How she remembered so many details from the past
When I started my job on the Today show, the first thing [film critic] Gene Shalit said was that I should keep a diary. I was like, That’s a great idea. And then of course, I never did. But I do have a good memory. I really do. I can put myself back at a place in time, and really remember how it felt. And I’m a terrible pack rat, so I kept speeches, I kept so many letters… Then I talked to friends and coworkers who could help me remember. Like I asked, “What did we do during that Tom Cruise interview?” and my producer reminded me, “We ordered sushi and there were bees everywhere…” And I said, “Oh, yeah, I do remember that…” So with all those things combined, I was able to piece together a lot of the situations I described in the book.
What she hopes readers will take away from the book
I think different readers will get different things out of it. They will certainly get to know me better, for better or worse. I think a lot of people will recognize what it’s like to lose someone and how you heal from something like that. And I think some people will be interested in my finding love as an older person… and other people will be interested in the inner workings of media, and how political and complex it can be.
What she’s up to these days
I’m developing some documentaries with various people, which is really exciting, and I’ve got a couple of scripted projects I’m developing. It’s been fun, because there are so many different platforms for storytelling now, and I like to play in all of them. I have the flexibility and the freedom to do that now. The book tour’s going to take a lot of my time, until the middle of November. It’s going to be exhausting, but I’m really excited about it.
Famous people she’d still like to meet
I would love to meet [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel. And I’d love to meet the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern. I love meeting women like that because, first of all, they are so badass. And secondly, they’re breaking barriers. I really would love to hear about their experiences as women leaders. They’re still a relatively new breed, and God knows we need a lot more of them.
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Her thoughts on aging
I don’t always love it. But I also feel fortunate I can do it. On balance, I feel lucky that I’m able to wake up every morning and feel pretty good. And whenever I complain to my husband, who’s six years younger than me — I’ll be like, I can’t believe I’m 64 — he says, “Hey, baby, enjoy it. You’re never going to get any younger.” Right? It’s true. As I get older, I’ll be like, Gee, I wish I was 64.
How she unwinds
Lately I’ve been watching a lot of Sex and the City reruns. I love that show. I’ve been doing Pilates since the beginning of the pandemic. My Pilates teacher has a website that says, “sitting is the new smoking,” so I’ve been trying to really take care of my body. I was just sitting so much during the pandemic — I’m getting sciatica a little bit. And I really enjoy cooking with people I love, to just all be [in the kitchen], talking. I get a lot of sustenance from my friends. I can just totally be myself, and they love me for who I am, not what I do.
Christina Ianzito is the travel and books editor for aarp.org and AARP The Magazine, and also edits and writes health, entertainment and other stories for aarp.org. She received a 2020 Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing.